Muslim Mahila Organisationís campaign in a Bangalore suburb leads to empowerment of women.
* Fazeelatunnisa is 45. Saddled with four children, she is the deserted wife of a vagabond Muslim husband who lives with another wife in Chennai and has not paid a single visit to her for the last 15 years. For several years, Fazeelat had been earning Rs. 20 daily at a leather garment factory where the best part of her day was spent.
But no longer so. Ever since she joined the adult education classes in Kamrajnagar locality of Bangalore and received a Rs. 5,000 loan from Karnataka Minority Development Corporation, she has started a catering service. She now earns enough to sustain her family and leads a comfortable life. With a loan from the KMDC she started a pettyshop also.
She is now returning Rs. 200 to the agency every month as well as earning a better livelihood for the family.
* Zaibunnissa, 60, was leading an agonised life, dependent as she was on her six sons. A battered soul and injured pride constantly pummelled her to come out of the daily humiliation at the hands of her irresponsible offspring.
She too is now running a petty shop with a loan from the KMDC. But basic motivation was provided by the adult literacy class.
* Post-Babri Masjid demolition riots snatched away Akhtar Begaumís husband. She was a mental wreck.
By A Staff Writer
But adult literacy classes in K. G. Halli locality changed her outlook towards life. She had now courage and confidence to begin life anew. A sewing machine loaned by the KMDC provided her the basic input to earn her living.
The common thread stringing these women into a well-knit group is a 21-year-old girl, Amathur Rahman Rahmani, a third year student of Law College in Bangalore whose movement for self respect among Muslim women is revolutionising the psyche of Muslim women, often victims of irresponsible Muslim husbands. Wearing a gown and sporting a headscarf, Rahmani is almost a fixture in Muslim social gatherings in Bangalore. The daring girl shirks neither from meeting officials nor holding a dharna opposite the Chief Ministerís office. Yet she is firm on clinging firmly to all shariah demands in matters of social and sartorial etiquette.
Sitting on a Dharna in front of C.M's office in Bangalore.
Below - Rahmani presenting a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, J.H.Patel.
Rahmaniís tryst with social work began in 1996 when she, with her colleagues carried out a survey in K. G. Halli conglomeration of slums and localities. To her chagrin, she found most Muslim auto drivers having two to three wives in different slums, evading the responsibility of maintaining them and the women and children suffering due to vagabond fathersí irresponsibility towards the families. Unable to earn, the mothers were pressing the children into child labour and robbing them of their innocence and childhood and the opportunity to attend a school.
It set her thinking. Irresponsible fathers, victimised women, child labourers, and a new generation of irresponsible men who would be new fathers. Was there light at the end of the tunnel for Muslims? No. Sadly no. The only way she could break the vicious circle was to educate the victimised women, awaken their self respect and equip them with skills so that they could replace their children as earning hands. And then put the children into schools.
She and her colleagues set up Muslim Mahila Organisation (MMO) in May 1997 and began adult literacy classes. Urdu, Kannada and English were taught. Quríanic verses were taught with Urdu meanings. Islamic principles of cleanliness, housekeeping, education, moral values and childrenís upbringing were imparted. The classes became popular. More and more women joined. Tailoring, embroidery, and cooking were introduced for skill development. The women began to read Urdu newspapers by the end of the first month. English proficiency was gained by third month. Teaching of Quran made them aware of their right to mehar, maintenance, fathersí responsibility towards children, etc. Says Rahmani: The masses are misled to believe that reading of the Quran without meanings would bring them deliverance and sawab. Little did they realise how they were taking Muslims away from the message of the holy Quran. This creates an atmosphere where pirs and men with fake claims to holiness exploit women.Ē
As women became skilled, they began earning and sending their children to schools and thus arose the need for a school. Rahmani and his father came up with a primary school, named Mahmood Ayaz Urdu Primary School, in a tiny place. But skilled women were urging for finances for their skills to turn them into enterprise. Rahmaniís pleadings with Karnataka Minority Development Corporation (KMDC) made it to waive the condition of three years for loans to NGOs. The Corporation extended loans of Rs. 5,000 each and some sewing machines to nearly 25 Muslim women. Cheques were given to women on the condition that they admitted their children into primary schools. Most women are now returning the loans at the rate of Rs. 250 a month and the Corporation has promised to extend loans to 50 women as soon as the entire sum is back. She even had a computer installed at the school last year which helps her expose the children to latest from the computer world.
As women began to develop self respect and refused to take dictates from husbands, there were complaints against Rahmani of turning the Muslim wives into rebels. Men protested against her ways. But the never-say-die Rahmani stayed firm. She says it was very difficult to work among people who lacked basic work ethics. She relates an instance: ďIn the first year when we distributed textbooks and notebooks, at least half of the children stopped coming to schools immediately afterwards. Queries led to revelation that fathers had sold the books in bazar at half the original rate and children stopped coming to school for fear of being asked about the disappearance of books.Ē At least four of the five women who were given sewing machine, preferred to keep the machine at Rahmaniís Mahmood Ayaz Urdu Primary School, lest their spend-thrift husbands sell them away for petty gains and pleasures. But then the fast changing economic scenario had its own impact. As women were economically empowered , they became assertive and refused to take orders from their wayward husbands. The men too began to think of being productive.
Rahmani also sat in dharna opposite the office of the Chief Minister demanding that Kannada teachers be appointed in Urdu medium schools, a problem which led to several failures in public examinations. She even gathered women to hoist black flags to demonstrate against the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Rahmani says the principal inspiration for her was her father, Abdul Aleem Al-Ameen, the founder of Karnataka Rajya Urdu Teachers Association. Ameen, a school teacher even to this day, propels her to go out and carry on her movement to empower the Muslim women. The father-daughter team works from the tiny book-lined premises in K. G. Halli to impart literacy and train women, mend their relationships, and get them financial help from all quarters possible in order to make them self-dependent. While much of her work won appreciation, her bold forays into the Muslim social life were sometimes portrayed negatively too. The highly unprofessional Urdu daily Pasban called her a new Taslima Nasreen. Even some ulema are unhappy with her ways. But resolute, she is determined to carry the torch of womenís empowerment, come what may. Salute to the brave spirit!